Beauty & Folly
It is about the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. It is a rather sad story, but people like it.
The rain poured down in sheets as Francis Bennet's funeral ended. Her weeping daughters were led by their husbands to their carriages. All but Elizabeth. She stood by her father as he stared blankly at the freshly dug grave and new tombstone.
Francis Mary Bennet
Beloved wife of Thomas Bennet
Her birth and death dates were also engraved but Mr. Bennet's gaze lingered on the words: Beloved wife of Thomas Bennet. His face was hard as stone, showing no emotion. Elizabeth shook his arm without any response.
"Papa? Papa, Fitzwilliam is waiting in the carriage for us. It is time to go back to Longbourn. Papa?" She shook his arm again.
He started but then, gaining his composure, walked to the carriage and was driven home. He immediately went into his study, not wanting to face sweet Jane, his eldest daughter's tears, nor the sorrow of his three youngest daughters. Not even Elizabeth was allowed into his study until late that evening, five minutes before she had to leave with her husband for Pemberley.
"Papa?" she called, knocking softly on the door.
"Yes, come in Elizabeth." he replied.
She came in to find him sitting at his desk, holding a necklace and lock of hair in his hands, staring at it. She studied his eyes for a few minutes and saw tears forming in them.
"I'm so sorry, Papa!" she cried and took his hand. A tear streamed down his cheek.
"I should have treated her better!" he cried suddenly and covered his face with his hands.
"Are you alright?" Elizabeth cried, alarmed. He stood up.
"Yes, I'm alright." he said and left the room to bid farewell to his daughters, not giving Elizabeth any idea of what he had been speaking.
Three years later...
The carriage rolled to a stop at Longbourn and Elizabeth Darcy stepped out of the carriage and walked into the house. Her younger sister, Mary, greeted her with an embrace.
"Hello, Lizzy. Our father is waiting for you in his library as usual. He has a cold and I practically forced him to stay there instead of going out in this dreadful cold weather to greet you." Mary said in one breath,
"Oh, they will arrive here in two days. They are staying with the Bingleys for a while, but I wanted to come here since I heard Papa has not been doing well. Is the cold very serious?" Elizabeth asked as she walked towards the library's closed door. Mary hastened to stop her.
"Don't go in before I tell you. Father is doing well physically. It's his state of mind that I'm worried about. It has been three years now since Mamma died. Last week was three years and since then he has been so depressed. I don't understand it. You know that he has never been very cheerful since she departed, but since last week he has been in such a state that I don't know what to do." Mary said. Elizabeth sighed, gave Mary a reassuring pat on the arm and then went into the library.
Mr. Bennet was sitting in an armchair by the warm fire. He smiled when Elizabeth entered the room and rose to embrace her.
"It's so good to see you, Lizzy." He said as he sat back down and she sat in the seat across from him.
"How are you feeling, Papa?"
"Alright, I suppose. This cold is really dreadful!" He chuckled.
"Mary tells me you have been, " Elizabeth paused, "depressed lately. Why is that? Mary seems to think you are mourning Mamma."
"Ah, your mother." He tried to sound casual but Elizabeth could see that a shadow crossed over his face. She reached over and took his hand in hers.
"You can tell me why you are so melancholy." she said.
"I should have treated her better." he cried forcibly. Elizabeth released his hand and sat back in her chair.
"You said that same thing the day of her funeral." she whispered.
"Because it is true! And the thought has been torturing me since that day!" he cried and put his hand up over his face.
Elizabeth rose from her seat and kneeled beside him, taking his hand again. "Papa..." she began but did not finish. What could she say?
They sat in this way for a long time until Elizabeth spoke softly, "How did -- how did you come to marry Mamma?"
"It's a long story. A sad tale. You would not want to hear it." He said, straightening up.
"But I do. I want to know what you mean exactly; why a man like you would marry a woman like Mamma." She said, feeling sorry she had said those words from the look her father gave her.
"Beauty and folly." He sighed at Elizabeth's inquiring look. "Very well, I will tell you."
Thirty-two years earlier. Longbourn, England. November 30th , 1790...
"Thomas, will you handle William for me while we go to town?" Thomas glanced up from his book at his mother holding the 18-month-old toddler.
"Of course mother. That is, if the nurse is not available." He said, raising his eyebrows.
"No," Mrs. Bennet said, out of breath. "Molly has the most frightful toothache today, and I've given her the day off. As you do not wish to go to town this evening the task falls on you to watch over little William. And you know very well that we can not take him. Besides..." she said as she sat the baby down and backed out of the door, "I'm sure he won't cause any trouble for you. And your friends will be coming over to play those dreadful card games with you and they may help you watch him." She closed the door firmly behind her.
Thomas could hear her calling to his three younger sisters to come and hurry. His father's footsteps were leaving the house and the rest of the party left calling ''Good -- bye'' to him as they departed. He stared at William as the boy grabbed a hold of a stack of the paperwork Thomas had been working on and threw it on the ground. William looked up at his older brother as Thomas stood and looked down at him, sighing.
"No trouble, mother said. Well, we shall see." he said, swooping the boy up in his arms and taking him out of the library.
Thomas managed to keep William out of enough trouble until he persuaded the cook to take care of him for an extra two shillings. He sighed with satisfaction as William Lucas rapped on the door and was let in to find Thomas in the library reading a book, with no baby in sight.
"Good evening, Tom!" he cried merrily.
"Hello, Sir William. Sit down." he said and laid aside his book.
"I have the most wonderful news, old friend!" William cried joyfully, not paying any attention to his friend's teasing.
"Aye, and you will never guess what it is!" Thomas smiled at this, knowing perfectly well his friend's news, but shook his head, implying that he could not guess. "Oh, Tom! I am to be married to dear Miss Miriam! Oh, I am the happiest man in the world!"
"Well congratulations! We always knew you two would marry some day." William's smile was so wide that Thomas wondered if his face would split in two.
Another knock on the door announced John Phillips and Robert Thornton. Thomas and William rose to greet them and the party went into the drawing room to play a game of whist and talk of William's betrothal.
"We will throw the finest parties in England! How lucky it is that you suggested that I come back here for a visit instead of staying in London, Thomas." William was saying as he studied his cards.
"I'm sure your parties will be splendid." Robert Thornton said, becoming annoyed with William's prattle.
"And by the way, her father will be throwing a party Friday evening in honor of my dear fiancee and you are all invited."
"Ah, this is good news! Is your betrothed inviting any of her single lady friends?" They all chuckled at John Phillips' remark.
"In fact she is! And there will be dancing of course." William said, looking slyly at his companions.
"Oh, I hate dancing!" Thomas cried.
"A most capital event!" William said, not hearing his friend. The room was dead silent for a few minutes. "Why are you all staring at me so?"
"It is your turn to play." Thomas said and they all laughed as William blushed.
"Thinking of something else, eh?" John cried merrily.
"No, no of course not." William said as he laid down his card and the game continued.
It was the day of the engagement party for William Lucas and Miriam West. Thomas sipped his tea and listened to his sisters chatting about how lovely the party would be.
"It will be my first party after coming out!" Janet exclaimed, tying a ribbon around the nosegay she was making.
"I'm glad it's going to be a rather large affair and mother can't take William with her. I love mother, and think she's wonderful, but I just cannot understand why she cannot leave him with the nurse. Do you know that she wanted to take him to the Long's engagement party? Papa put a stop to that notion immediately." Iris said.
"How can Thomas sit there like that, reading again?" Margaret cried.
"He's always reading!" nineteen year old Iris, the oldest of the three sisters, said.
"Not always, my dear sister," he replied. "And if I'm not mistaken, you were reading a book of poetry all day long yesterday."
"Not all day! Why are you so frightfully calm? Aren't you excited about going to one of your best friend's engagement party?" Iris asked.
"Of course, but I do not need to flutter around the house and talk about how excited I am like you three do."
"He's cruel! When will you ever stop teasing us?" seventeen year old Janet cried.
"I am stating a fact."
"What can we tease him about?" Margaret asked thoughtfully.
"Perhaps he still remembers the time he was dancing with that girl and tripped over her dress?" Janet said slyly and watched as her brother's face grew red.
"Is that why you never dance these days, Tom? Because you're afraid you'll trip again?" Iris asked coolly.
"I don't wish to discuss the matter." Thomas said and picked up his book, pretending not to notice the muffled laughter of his sisters.
"Papa! I don't understand! You said that your story was one of sadness! This tale is one full of mirth and happiness!" Elizabeth laughed. "It's fun to imagine my Aunts young. Aunt Janet's first party after coming out! How interesting indeed! But does it get worse when you meet Mama?" Elizabeth cried.
"You must listen and not interrupt, my dear." her father replied, sipping some tea.
"I'm sorry Papa. You were beginning to tell me about what happened at Miriam's engagement party."
The parties that the Wests threw were famous in Meryton. They were known to have an extremely good cook and there was always dancing. A person might say that every party that was thrown at the Wests' could safely be called a ball. The Bennet girls had every right to be excited about going to this party. Every respectable person in Meryton was likely to be present, and more people that Miss Miriam had met in London were bound to be there as well.
"Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet! I see you brought your whole family!" Mr. West said with a smile as he shook hands with Mr. Bennet.
"Not quite the whole family. Little William is at home with his nurse." Mr. Bennet said with great satisfaction.
"I do worry about him with the nurse. She's quite new you know and --"
"We've had her for over two years," Mr. Bennet mumbled to Mr. West and they chuckled at Mrs. Bennet's offended look.
"Well who knows what she'll teach him?" she cried.
"My dear, I am sure that for one evening William will be fine with the nurse." Mr. Bennet said and led her into the ball room where all the guests were assembled, having calmed her worries.
"Hello, Thomas." Mr. West greeted the younger Mr. Bennet.
"And good evening ladies." He said, bowing elegantly to Iris, Margaret and Janet. "Welcome to my daughter's engagement ball."
"It's a pleasure to be here, sir." Thomas said and led his sisters into the ballroom.
"I declare Thomas, I shall faint from all of this excitement! Everyone we know is here, and more!" Janet whispered to him as she took his arm.
"Do not worry yourself. It's just an engagement party. Everyone here knows you, well almost everyone. And look! There is Robert Thornton!" He smiled as his sister blushed.
"I knew he would be here! We must go over and say hello." They walked over to where he was talking to a group of people with whom they were unacquainted.
"Ah, Thomas! I was wondering where you'd gotten to!" Robert said, shaking hands with him.
"Robert, you remember my sister Janet, don't you?" Thomas said, gesturing at her. Robert regarded the pretty brown eyes and curly brown hair for a moment before answering.
"Of course! I was at your coming out ball only just recently!" He kissed her hand. "A pleasure to see you again." Janet was very pleased, said hello but practically hid behind her brother while she listened to him talking with his best friend.
A pretty young woman accompanied by two young men came up to Robert after a moment. The lady interrupted him by saying: "Mr. Robert Thornton! You were talking to me and then left! Why didn't you introduce me to your friends like you promised to?" she said playfully.
"Now Frances..." one of the young men began.
"No, no! She is quite right! I have behaved very rudely. Mr. Gardiner, Miss Gardiner, allow me to present my good friend, Thomas Bennet and his sister, Miss Janet Bennet." He gave Janet a smile while saying her name.
"Thomas, this is Mr. Gardiner and his sister, Miss Frances Gardiner."
"I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Bennet!" she said, smiling sweetly at him.
"A pleasure indeed." Thomas said, regarding the beautiful woman standing in front of him, and bowed.
Frances Gardiner was one of the prettiest women Thomas had ever seen. She had dark blonde hair and pretty brown eyes. Her figure was shapely and her complexion was perfect.
The only other women equal to her beauty in the room were his own sisters and perhaps Frances Gardiner's sister who came to join them and was introduced as Mary Gardiner.
"Miss Bennet?" Robert turned in Janet's direction. "Will you do me the honor of dancing with me?" he asked as the music started.
"Of course Mr. Thornton," she said, blushing prettily as he led her onto the floor.
"That was very rude," Miss Frances cried, "for he said he would dance with me!" Her brother gave her a sharp look.
"Frances, he said nothing of the sort. Please compose yourself," he said. Thomas watched the disappointed look on her face for a few moments before bravely addressing her.
"I would be very honored if you would dance that next two with me, Miss Gardiner," he said and she consented very quickly.
Iris was sipping some punch when she noticed her brother leading the elder Miss Gardiner onto the dance floor. She swallowed hard and put her drink down quickly as she also noticed Robert Thornton dancing with Janet! She then saw Mary Gardiner dancing with Mr. Phillips and Margaret dancing with a man she did not know. Iris sat down in a chair and watched them, feeling rather left out.
"Don't they make a pretty pair?" Mrs. Bennet said behind her.
"Yes, mother." Iris said, and flinched as she saw Thomas stumble. "But I think Thomas had better practice dancing a little more if he intends to stand up with any of the other pretty girls in the room."
"But my dear, there are no other pretty girls in the room besides the ones already dancing, and you of course," she added hastily. "He chose a very good partner." Iris raised an inquiring eyebrow. "You see, she has a dowry of 4000 pounds! And I believe is supposed to be very good-natured. You can see that she is good looking." Iris shook her head and smiled.
"I don't think good looks and a good temper will be enough for Thomas. And the money means nothing to him I am sure. He needs someone that he can talk to and share his ideas with."
"True, Iris, but this girl may be the one." Mrs. Bennet said, then left to chat with some of her friends.
"Wasn't it wonderful?" Janet exclaimed as she threw herself rather unladylike onto a chair in the sitting room.
"It was a delightful evening!" Margaret said, sitting down in a more elegant fashion.
"Easy enough for you all to say. You didn't have old Mrs. West spill red wine on your white gown." Iris said, wiping at what was left of the stain with a napkin.
"At least the incident happened at the end of the party. And you did dance with many handsome young men." Janet said with a smile.
"You did as well, Janet." Margaret said slyly and watched her blush.
"You'd better be careful about the blushing, Janet. Your face was pink the whole evening." Thomas said, entering the room. Janet put a hand up to her cheek.
"Robert Thornton is dashingly handsome, isn't he?" Iris pried. Janet sat silently fanning herself but they could all detect a dreamy smile on her face.
"Be careful ladies, do not reveal any of your secrets in front of me for I may betray you if my best friend, who just happens to be Robert, asks me anything about you three!" Thomas said.
"Then leave if you must! But before you go," Iris called as he was heading out the door, "Tell us what you thought of the extremely beautiful Miss Frances Gardiner!" He paused and turned, meditating for a few seconds.
"Well, Thomas?" Margaret asked and Janet stopped her fanning.
"I found her quite charming," he stammered and left his three giggling sisters alone.
Two days later÷
"Our whist nights are always very interesting, but I think inviting Mr. Gardiner, young Mr. West, Mr. Long and the new fellow from London as a rather strange idea. We've only just met them at the engagement party." Robert Thornton said to Thomas as they waited for their other guests to arrive.
"They all seemed like very agreeable gentlemen, Robert. I wish to know them better. I had greatly hoped that you would too." Thomas said, picking up some cards and shuffling them.
"I agree! I should very much enjoy getting to know Mr. Gardiner better. He seemed like a very sensible man!" John Phillips said. Robert looked at both of the men sitting beside him.
"He has very agreeable sisters as well," he said.
"Yes, indeed!" John said quickly and Thomas sat shuffling.
"Both very beautiful ..." Robert said, smiling to himself.
"You didn't dance with either one of them though." Thomas said, staring at the cards.
"No, he was too busy dancing with Miss Janet!" John laughed but Robert and Thomas frowned.
"I will not have Janet made fun of in her own home!" he said.
"I only dancing with her twice..." Both of his companions gave him a glance. " or perhaps three times. But I did dance with the elder Miss Gardiner. It was hard to ask her though, because a certain best friend of mine was always near her..." Robert said cruelly. Thomas was intent upon his cards.
The other guests arrived with William Lucas just then and Janet, who had been sitting in the hallway by the drawing room door, met them and followed them into the room.
"Welcome!" Thomas said, rising from his seat. "Hello, William! Good evening Mr. Gardiner, Mr. West, Mr. Long and Mr. Jones!" He saw his sister standing in the shadows of the room. "Janet..." he sighed.
"I just wanted to know if any of you wanted anything. Tea, or refreshments?" she hastened to say.
"Should I bring you anything?" She looked at Robert and received a smile. "Would you like anything?" She directed her question to him.
"There is a bell for the servants if we need anything, Janet." Thomas said sternly and she meekly left the room. Thomas shook his head and took a seat across from Edward Gardiner.
"Seems that she wanted to play as well." He chuckled.
"She wanted to be around him." Thomas muttered, jerking his head in Robert's direction. "But she is too young for such flirtation. I won't put up with it."
"I understand perfectly what you mean." Edward said and ignored Thomas's inquiring look as William and Benjamin Jones sat down at the table and they began to play.
By the end of the evening, Thomas had decided that Edward was one of the most interesting people he had ever met. Conversing with him was extremely interesting and Thomas enjoyed the evening immensely. He had been rather surprised at himself, saying what he had about Janet's conduct to Edward, but he had perhaps been a little too hasty in his judgement. Janet was not the sort of girl to flirt. However, she did not need to always hang around Robert no matter how much she liked him.
Before everyone took their leave, William Lucas reminded them that his parents were throwing a 'small' evening party the following week and they were all invited as well as their families. Thomas smiled to himself. The Lucas' parties were never small ones and were very frequent. A month could not go by without them having at least two evening parties. They were always good parties, however, promised good company and good refreshments. So everyone invited always came.
Thomas saw all of his guests to the door and then was about to turn in when he heard Iris playing on the piano. He walked into the sitting room where she was playing and sat down to listen. She finished the piece and smiled at him.
"What piece is that, Iris?"
"It's a country dance. Do you like it?" she inquired.
"Excellent," he replied.
"Then perhaps you would like to learn it?"
"No, no Iris! I have no need for dancing!" he chuckled. She raised her eyebrows.
"Are you sure, my dear brother? Not even for some time in the future when you will have a great need for dancing?"
"No. But thank you for the offer. Good night." He stood up to leave the room, but turned when she began to play her favorite love song. "How is it that you are just as pretty and talented as your sisters and yet you have no lover, Iris?" he asked softly.
"Perhaps for the same reason you have no lover yet. Good night, Thomas," she said, intent upon her music.
"Good night," he said and left the room.
Thomas found himself searching the room for Miss Frances Gardiner as soon he entered. He did not see her or any other members of her family and so tried to divert his attention to other things that were going on. His mother was discussing wedding details with Mrs. West. The two were very good friends and it was already certain that the wedding was going to be a dazzlingly beautiful one if Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. West had anything to do with the arrangements and decorations.
Mrs. West was a rather large woman. People said that it was because of the fabulous cook that she had hired fifteen years ago who was still working in their service. Everyone hoped that the cook would be taking care of the wedding cake and the wedding breakfast. And Mrs. Bennet was known far and wide for her decorating talents.
She had helped with the Church decorations at the last wedding. Everything had been so beautiful that people were amazed. All of Mrs. Bennet's parties were always lovely ones, not just because of the way the house looked, but because of the taste she had about what to serve, which tea sets would be appropriate and so on. People were definitely certain that William Lucas and Miriam West's wedding was going to be a beautiful one.
"Hello, Thomas. Who are you looking for?" William asked. Thomas started, discovering that he had again began looking around the room for Miss Frances. He wondered why.
"Oh, no one." William did not ask any further questions.
"Mr. Thomas Bennet!" He turned swiftly at the sound of Miss Frances' voice. "How good to see you again! It has been such a long time!" she said sweetly, batting her long eyelashes.
"Indeed, Miss Gardiner. Nine days is a very long time to be separated." She laughed loudly at this and he smiled at her.
"How have you been getting along?" she asked.
"Extremely well, thank you," he replied.
The sound of music drifted to his ears and he saw Iris performing at the piano. He then noticed a few people dancing. He watched Iris for a few moments until her eyes met his. She raised her eyebrows and nodded towards Frances meaningfully and Thomas turned toward the young lady stammering, "Would you like to dance?" She needed no further invitation.
Thomas made a great effort not to make a fool of himself while dancing, but it was an extremely fast country dance and Iris clearly knew it very well. Her fingers flew across the keys steadily and surely. All of the other couples were enjoying the dance immensely, but Thomas was feeling very wretched as he kept on trampling upon Miss Frances' feet.
The dance ended and another was beginning. It was slower and more relaxing. Thomas asked if Frances would like to dance again but she declined, making an excuse about having sore feet. He escorted her to a chair but when he looked at her after a few minutes, she wasn't there and was joining the dance with another person.
Thomas' face turned red and he turned away to watch Iris playing. He could not do so for very long for she watched him with a look that said: 'I told you so', so he escaped to the library where he read for the rest of the evening until Robert found him.
"What are you doing in here?" he asked as he entered the room.
"Reading." Thomas answered not looking up from his book.
"What is that? A romance novel?"
"Don't you have other things you could do this evening, Robert?" Thomas sighed, "It is a history book."
"Ah, so very interesting. Everyone is wondering where you are. Won't you come out and enjoy yourself a little more, my friend?"
"No. You saw me dancing! I made a complete fool of myself!" Robert made no comment.
"Well, I cannot talk to you when you're like this, "Robert said as he opened the library door, "but Miss Frances was wondering where you'd gone."
"Why should I care is Miss Frances wants to know where I've gone?" Thomas challenged, but Robert left the room.
The next day...
"You certainly had an enjoyable time at the party last night. Did you enjoy dancing, Thomas?" Iris said cruelly as she arranged some flowers in a vase. Thomas had been reading a newspaper. He did not look up and did not answer. "Was your book amusing?" she taunted. He closed the newspaper, folded it up and slammed it onto the desk near him with a loud thud.
"Alright, say it. I was a complete idiot last night. Say it, Iris!" She smiled at him.
"Not really an idiot, but you did look foolish."
"Foolish then! Oh and don't smile at me that way! I saw the look you gave me; 'I told you so' was written plainly all over your face!"
She chuckled. "Do you still not want me to teach you to dance correctly?" she asked. He scowled.
"No, I just won't dance, that's all. Why should I desperately need to dance with Miss Gardiner? Well I don't and will you please stop that annoying grinning? It is very unbecoming in a young lady!"
"Now you are sounding like Mother!" Iris cried and Thomas left the room as she laughed. Thomas walked towards the library when he heard his father speaking in his study to Mrs. Bennet.
"I agree with you, my dear. It is a very good idea to have the Gardiners over for dinner the coming Monday."
"It will give us a very good chance to get to know them better. And Miss Frances is such a sweet girl. I think it will be wonderful. And I've heard rumors of there being a ball soon. Won't it be wonderful?"
"Of course, my dear." Mr. Bennet answered. Thomas went back into the room Iris was in.
She was reading so he cleared his throat noisily. She looked at him with her green eyes and smiled at his embarrassed look.
"Have you decided to take some dancing lessons?" she asked playfully, thinking he'd decline.
"Well, actually...yes." He stammered and her smile grew wider.
"I'll go get Margaret. She dances wonderfully and I'll play and watch. You won't regret being my pupil, Thomas."
"I had better not," he replied and she scurried out of the room on her mission.
"One, two three, that's right!" Iris cried in delight and clapped her hands as Margaret and Thomas finished the dance perfectly.
"That was just wonderful! You're an excellent dancer, Thomas!" Margaret praised.
"Thank you, ladies! In the past three days, you have both done an excellent job of teaching me to dance like a true gentleman! I am deeply gratified." He bowed to them elegantly.
"Now even Miss Frances won't be ashamed to stand up with you!" Iris said playfully to Thomas as Margaret left the room.
"Why must you continually speak of that particular young lady and myself, may I ask?" Thomas asked, trying to seem as casual as possible.
"Because I know you better then you know yourself, Thomas!" Iris joked, but became serious as she said, "You really care for her, don't you?" Thomas didn't answer. "I'm sorry, Thomas, for teasing you so, but after all, you do need a little help!" she said, but Thomas left the room.
The next evening..
The table was set beautifully and the candles were burning brightly. Mrs. Bennet inspected the room and nodded to herself, satisfied with the evening's work. Everything was absolutely perfect and the Gardiners were sure to be impressed.
She wanted it to be a special night for her son. It was obvious to her that, although for the present he denied it, he was very attracted to Miss Frances and no wonder! She was a very beautiful young woman. Tonight, however, they would be able to study her character and see if the young woman would be capable of understanding Thomas' love of reading, or his serious nature. If she, like Iris had said, would be someone with whom he could share his ideas and talk.
"You have done an excellent job, as usual my dear." Mrs. Bennet turned to see her husband standing behind her.
"The candlelight effect creates a most romantic atmosphere," he said, putting his arms around her.
"Are you in a good mood tonight?" she asked as he kissed her forehead.
"Certainly. I'm looking forward to seeing how our son handles himself in front of Miss Gardiner," he said, withdrawing his arms from around her and circling the table. "Perhaps he should sit next to her," he said and, sitting down, he motioned for his wife to sit across from him. "This way he might be able to converse with her easily. She seems to be a very intelligent young lady."
"We will not know until after this evening," she said.
"Ah, my Meg, you are thinking that perhaps her only talents are being beautiful?" he asked.
"We will see," she said and then left the room to discuss a few details with the cook.
The sound of carriage wheels could be heard and Janet rushed to the window to see if the guests had arrived. As soon as she made perfectly sure that it was them, she rushed to find her mother and alert her to their arrival.
"Good evening, Mr. Gardiner, Miss Gardiner and Miss Mary!" Mr. Bennet greeted them as they walked in.
"You are most welcome!"
"We are very happy indeed to be here, sir." Edward said graciously and the two sisters smiled at them.
"You already know my family well, so perhaps you should like to come into the dinning room where we shall have dinner?" Mr. Bennet said, leading the way.
"Thomas, will you escort Miss Frances into the dinning room?" Mrs. Bennet asked, and Thomas threw a grateful smile at her as he led Frances into the room.
"I have been longing to get to know you all better ever since I met you! It is so nice of you to invite us to dine with you!" Frances said as she took her seat next to Thomas.
The Bennets were all quite impressed with the Gardiners' fine manners and good education. Nothing, however, impressed them more than when someone suggested some music later on in the evening and Miss Frances asked if they would mind if she played and sang a song for them.
"Oh, do you play and sing?" Iris asked, her eyes sparkling with sudden interest.
"Frances plays and sings rather well." Edward said quickly, seeming to not want to her do so.
"Then I should love to hear her! I enjoy music immensely and it is just lovely when someone can perform well!" Iris said and Frances sat down at the piano, beginning her piece.
It was a beautiful love song, performed perfectly and sung better then anyone any of the Bennets had heard. She finished the piece, leaving everyone in the room awed and speechless. Iris stared at the woman as if seeing her in a new light. Thomas tried to say something nice but ended up mumbling something. She smiled at her audience and then took a seat beside Thomas. No one seemed to notice Edward's rather uncomfortable look.
Iris was the first to say something appropriate. "You played the song so ... so beautifully!" she said, coming to sit by Frances. "Won't you play another?"
"Oh no! I'd much rather hear you play a song for us! I am tired and do not want to sing more." Frances said firmly.
"Oh, do Miss Bennet!" Mary urged and so Iris sat down the play a piece.
The guests left after a short while, and Iris purposefully made sure that she caught Thomas alone before he retired. He was meditating while he stared at the fire and she came into the room and sat down across from him.
"Oh, Tom!" She hadn't used this name for him for many years and she instantly got his attention. He looked at her shining eyes. "Miss Frances was so wonderful this evening! She sings like an angel!" He made no comment.
"And I had thought that I sang rather well! It is nothing compared to her voice!" she sighed.
"I am happy that you enjoyed the evening and that Miss Gardiner finally has your stamp of approval. She does sing beautifully to say the very least." He stared into the fire again.
"Oh, to be able to sing like that she must have so much learning and feeling! Yes, I truly think highly of her now."
"Because she sang a song?" Thomas said sarcastically.
"You spoil everything with your teasing, Thomas! I was completely serious! You yourself have a good ear. You must have enjoyed the song!" Iris said earnestly. He looked straight into her eyes.
"I have never heard anyone sing with more feeling for beauty than she did tonight. Never, Iris. I must admit, that I agreed with you completely when you said that she sings like an angel, for she does indeed." He rose from his seat and left Iris to think about what he had just said.
It was a beautiful day for a wedding. Everyone was saying so as they drove or walked to the Church where Sir William Lucas and Miriam West would be united together that day in holy matrimony. The sky was blue and it was very warm that September morning.
"I declare, Thomas! I am so nervous I will not be able to put the ring on Miriam's finger! My hand will be so shaky that I will drop it!" William Lucas cried.
"Now, now. Everything will be fine." Thomas soothed.
"I am so very glad that you are my best man. It is so encouraging."
"Indeed? You don't think we'll have to hold you steady while the ceremony is going on?" Thomas joked and William threw him a sour look.
"Do I look handsome enough?"
"Of course!" Thomas cried and took his friend's arm as they prepared to go into the church.
As predicted by everyone the church decorations were wonderful. Everything was splendid but nothing could surpass the beauty and radiance of the bride as she walked down the aisle on her father's arm. Tears of joy were shed and Old Mrs. West started to weep as the ceremony finished. Mrs. West had to lend her mother-in-law the handkerchief that she had intended to use for herself but luckily did not shed a tear.
Thomas was very happy for his friend as he watched him say his vows. He found himself wondering as he watched one of the bridesmaids, Miss Frances Gardiner, who stood next to Miriam's two sisters, if he someday would be doing the same.
As they waved goodbye to the newlyweds, Iris took out the handkerchief that she had brought along just in case.
"Why Iris, are you crying?" Thomas asked as she wiped her eyes.
"I do not wish to discuss the subject as you will only tease me for being so happy for them that I cry." She answered, sniffing.
"You are crying! But, my dear sister, I perfectly understand why you are crying. Miriam was a good friend of yours as William was a good friend of mine. You have a right to be so happy that it brings you to tears of joy."
"Why, Thomas! You are not going to tease me?" she cried, delighted.
"No, indeed. Why on earth would you presume that I would laugh at your tears?" Thomas said, pretending to be offended as he walked towards Edward Gardiner and his sisters with Iris close at his heels, still wiping her red eyes.
"Good morning, or should I say afternoon by now, Mr. Gardiner." Thomas said when he reached them.
"Hello, Mr. Bennet! It is indeed a good morning! A very happy morning and such a beautiful one!" he said, looking at the sky.
Iris came up to them. "And here is the most romantic of my sisters come to say what a beautiful morning it is too." Thomas said as Iris wiped her eyes once more before putting the handkerchief back in her handbag.
"Hello Mr. Gardiner, Miss Gardiner and Miss Mary." Iris said.
"Why your eyes are all red and puffy! Have you been crying?" Frances cried as she took Iris' arm. "I hope you're feeling alright this morning. And I must say that I do not like that way you call me 'Miss Gardiner' as if we didn't know each other at all! Please call me Frances." Iris smiled at her.
"Then if I must call you Frances, please call me Iris," she said and Frances giggled as she led her away from Thomas and Edward to talk. Mary followed them.
"Well it seems that your sister and mine are becoming friends!" Thomas said cheerfully.
"Yes." Edward mumbled.
"Why should it upset you?" Thomas asked.
"It doesn't upset me!" Edward cried and Thomas smiled.
"Oh. I understand you are leaving for London tomorrow." Thomas said.
"Yes, I am. I have business that I cannot delay any longer. My sisters, however, will be staying here for another fortnight. The West family has extended their stay." Edward said, seeming annoyed.
"That is wonderful news!" Thomas said. Edward looked at him seriously before saying,
"I suppose you have noticed that..." he trailed off. "How the behaviour of..." he shook his head.
"Yes?" Thomas asked.
"Never mind. It was very nice knowing you, Mr. Bennet." Edward said. He bowed and left. Thomas stared after him, extremely puzzled, before Robert Thornton came up to join him.
"Hello, Thomas! Haven't had a chance to say anything to you this morning. Lovely wedding, wasn't it?"
"Yes." Thomas forgot Edward's strange behaviour as Janet came to them.
"Father and Mother are preparing to go back to Longbourn. Are you coming, Thomas?" she asked, trying to keep from smiling too much at Robert.
"Yes, I will be there in a minute." Janet reluctantly went to tell her parents and Thomas eyed his friend following her retreat. "Robert?" He didn't answer. "Robert?"
"Yes?" he said. Thomas chuckled.
"No, Rob old friend. No."
"What are you talking about?"
"Janet is only seventeen. She's too young." Thomas warned.
"I hardly think I've done anything to make you think that I am making advances towards your youngest sister. We are old friends, you know that." Thomas shook his head knowingly.
"She is young. If you break her heart I will never forgive you." He said seriously.
"Don't worry, Thomas." Robert answered and Thomas headed toward his family to go home.
"What were you and Miss Gardiner talking about for so long?" Thomas asked Iris when he found her in the garden later on that day.
"We talked about the wedding, really. And I started to discuss music but it was time for her to leave."
"Music. You really love it, don't you?" Thomas stated.
"Does Miss Gardiner?"
"Of course! How could anyone not love music and yet sing and play as she does? It is impossible!" Iris insisted.
"Did she tell you that she was interested in music?"
"I don't remember. Yes, she did." Thomas nodded his head and headed back towards the house. "You know that she and her sister will be staying for another two weeks, don't you?"
"I know it," he called over his shoulder as he headed towards the house.
"What a lovely party, Mrs. Lucas!" Iris said as she sipped a glass of wine. "I think your idea of throwing a party to celebrate the marriage of your son is a wonderful one!"
"Thank you, Miss Bennet." Mrs. Lucas said, moving away from her to see to another guest.
William and Miriam Lucas had been married for two days and were still on their honeymoon. The Lucas' had thrown a party, inviting their closest friends. Thomas was, as usual, walking around the room deep in thought. Janet and Iris were talking with the Gardiner sisters and Margaret was speaking with Mrs. Lucas. Thomas walked over to where his sisters were talking to the Gardiners.
"...Really Frances, you should sing for us again! It would be so nice to hear you." Iris was pleading as Thomas approached.
"Oh no, I do not think so, Iris."
"Why ever not, Miss Gardiner?" Thomas asked. Frances smiled at him.
"You also wish to hear me sing?"
"Absolutely, Miss Gardiner, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."
"Of course Mr. Bennet, if you insist." She said and glided over to the piano.
"You certainly convinced her!" Janet whispered to him as she was passing. Thomas' face turned rather red but he walked over near the pianoforte as Frances started playing.
As he watched her Thomas found himself thinking that he had never known a more beautiful woman on the earth. He watched her, feeling warm and wonderful as she finished the song. He then hurried over to her and was the first to say how beautifully she had sang.
After Frances had finished her song Iris was asked to play. She inquired if anyone would like to dance. Many people did and so she began playing a lively country-dance. As she began, Iris threw a meaningful glance towards Thomas. He, catching on immediately, turned towards Frances.
"Would you do me the honor of dancing with me, Miss Gardiner?" he asked.
"Oh well sir..." she trailed off, seeming reluctant to consent and yet unwilling to refuse.
"Why not, Frances?" her sister Mary whispered loudly in her ear and Frances giggled nervously.
"I would be very happy if you would, Miss Gardiner." Thomas said slyly, giving her a beautiful smile.
"Very well then, I shall dance with you," she said.
Frances looked as though she was going to regret it as he led her over to where other couples were already dancing. Thomas bowed to her and she curtsied, looking at her dainty feet as she did so and sighing. They then began to dance.
Frances seemed as though she expected her feet to be trampled but as the dance progressed and Thomas was dancing extremely well she seemed to relax and gave him a heartwarming smile. They enjoyed the first dance, then another, before Thomas led her from the dance floor. Frances was impressed and Thomas threw Iris a triumphant smile.
"I enjoyed those two dances very much!" Frances exclaimed, giggling.
"As I did." Thomas said, and she took his arm and led him over to get another glass of wine.
"I understand you are very fond of music, Miss Gardiner." Thomas began. Frances took a sip of her drink and thought a second before answering.
"Oh, oh yes. I am fond of music I suppose ..." she trailed off.
"I am as well! My sister, as you know, is rather an accomplished piano player and our whole family enjoys listening to music. You play, though I say it myself, and sing so beautifully," he said. Frances smiled widely, showing off perfect teeth.
"Thank you, Mr. Bennet," she said.
"Thomas. Would you call me Thomas?"
"Thomas," she answered, laughing as she walked off toward her sister who was chatting with some other friends, throwing him backward glances as she went. Thomas sighed, feeling tingly and warm inside.
"You look as if you enjoyed the evening!" Iris said to Thomas as they walked toward Longbourn.
"I did enjoy it very much." Thomas said, remembering Frances' smiles.
"Frances seemed to enjoy it as well. We'll be seeing her often, I hope."
"I hope so."
"She sang wonderfully this evening. I must ask her for the notes to the song." Iris said.
"She sang like an angel." Thomas said dreamily.
"You have mentioned that before, my dear brother."
"I have?" Thomas didn't seem to remember and Iris laughed out loud.
"You are hopelessly lost!" Thomas looked very seriously at her.
"I think I am, Iris. Would you mind...what would you think of having another sister in the family?" he said, stuttering.
"A sister who is an accomplished player and sings like an angel perhaps?" Iris asked teasingly. Thomas nodded and the teasing look in her eyes disappeared. "Do you love her Thomas? Are you sure? We've known her for only a short while..."
"As you said yourself, I am hopelessly lost, Iris," he said softly. Iris' green eyes looked into his steadily.
"Then I should like nothing better then to have a sister to play duets with!" Iris cried and Thomas grinned from ear to ear.
The morning was a beautiful one and every Bennet at Longbourn was busily employed with something. Iris was mourning over her daisies which were beginning to look a little dreary since the weather was becoming a little chilly and it had been raining much more than usual until today. Margaret was reading a romantic novel aloud to Janet and they were both sighing wistfully when they came to a particularly lovely part. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were both enjoying some quiet time together since Mr. Bennet had finally convinced his wife that little William would do well with the nurse for a few hours. Thomas was very busy pacing about the library.
Ever since he had made up his mind about proposing to Miss Frances Gardiner he had been trying to plan what he would say, where he would preferably say it and even when. He had spoken to his father and mother about his decision and they both were delighted once he assured them that he really loved her. He did indeed love her, and that was why she was constantly on his mind.
'Does she love me? Will she accept? Does she even like me?' were the questions that were crossing his mind at the moment of which we are speaking. He had confided his worries to Iris once and she had laughed, assuring him that of course she liked him, she would definitely accept, (she hoped), and that if she did it would mean that she loved him. Thomas, however, would not be calmed until he had proof that she loved him and that he would not get until he proposed.
His present task was now to do that. Six days had passed since he had seen Miss Gardiner last and he was getting more and more nervous about the idea of his proposing to her. He had tried rehearsing in front of a mirror, but that had failed utterly because he thought he looked like a fool and since Janet had caught him doing it and had started to laugh hysterically!
Poor Thomas, who had always been a quiet and rather shy person, not liking to make speeches in public or anywhere for that matter was now confronted with the thing that he had always most feared: making a speech and, while doing so, making a fool of himself!
"Miss Gardiner..." he paused searching for the right word to use, "allow me to ask..." He shook his head. "May I ask you something...do you love me?" he scratched his head. "Too forward?" He looked at his dog who was sitting comfortably on an armchair watching him. "I'll try again..."
Unconsciously, Thomas had gone into the library to think in private of what he would say to her, only to find himself talking to the dog like a human and rehearsing in front of him.
"Let me see... Miss Gardiner, may I..."
"Yes?" Thomas whirled around suddenly, his eyes wide, and he practically gasped, for there in front of him stood the very lady of whom he had been speaking!
"Miss G-Gardiner!" he cried, his throat suddenly dry and his knees weak.
"Hello Thomas." She smiled at him sweetly. "You were going to say something to me."
"May I ask..."
"Yes?" She batted her eyelashes at him.
"How long you have been standing there?" he finished. She blinked but then answered,
"I came in and you said: Miss Gardiner, may I...I was hoping you would continue what you were going to say because you obviously didn't know I was there when you were saying it."
"You wish to know what I was going to say?" Thomas asked shakily, all of his brave feelings, (if any), that he would not be a coward were gone and he was feeling very foolish. Things were not going at all how he had planned.
"Of course! You were going to say something to me, weren't you?"
"Well then! What is it?" she asked eagerly.
"I did not know you were going to come for a visit today!" he exclaimed. Frances looked put out.
"I was invited by your eldest sister. She told me to wait for her in the library for when I arrived she was in a most dishevelled condition. I believe she was rummaging about in the garden and such. She'll be coming down shortly. But, Mr. Bennet, that was not what you were going to say when I happened upon you just a few moments ago!"
"Oh," was all Thomas could say at the moment. Frances sat down, looking extremely disappointed when he was silent, and he began to feel guilty and ashamed of himself. "I wanted to ask you if..." He was encouraged by the very pleased look she gave him. "If you would consent to be my .. wife" he finished.
Frances sat in her chair, looking very stunned. Thomas felt uncomfortable, especially when she started to cry. He knew she hated him now but he offered her a handkerchief. She took it gratefully and, after wiping her eyes and sniffing, she looked up and him and smiled.
"I'm sorry for saying such a thing to you Miss..."
"Oh Thomas!" she cried passionately and threw herself into his arms. He had not expected this but he placed his arm around her awkwardly for a few moments. She had her arms clasped firmly around his neck and whispered into his ear: "Of course I consent! I was so hoping that was what you were planing to say."
"You were?" Thomas removed her arms from around his neck and kept them from squeezing him again.
"Yes of course, darling!"
"I was afraid you wouldn't be so pleased."
"I couldn't be anything but overjoyed!" She smiled up at him but when he didn't take her into his arms she asked uncertainly, "You do love me, don't you Thomas?"
He held both of her hands more firmly and replied, "I love you with all of my heart, Frances," he said solemnly, forgetting all of his worries and becoming his regular self again, grinning from ear to ear with happiness.
Frances most likely would have thrown her arms around him again had not Iris entered the scene suddenly. Seeing them holding hands she turned immediately and headed out the door, muttering "So sorry ..."
"Don't go, Iris! I want you to be the first to know that Frances and I are betrothed." Thomas called after her. Iris immediately ran towards Frances and hugged her, beginning to cry.
"I'm so happy for you both!"
"Of course I will have to speak to her father." Thomas said, the thought suddenly occurring to him.
"I'm sure he will have no objection!" Iris said, hugging her brother and then wiping her eyes. "We shall have to make a trip to London as a family!"
"Indeed we shall." Thomas said and Frances burst into tears of happiness again.
The Wests were not at all vexed when Frances requested that she and her sister had to leave for London the next day. When they also found out that she was to be going with the Bennets on Iris's invitation, they were even more pleased for they could guess the reason of their sudden departure.
The ride to London was wonderful. Everyone was in great spirits. Frances seemed especially happy and laughed at anything everyone said. She made sure she always sat next to Thomas in the carriage. He did not mind this at all and they enjoyed each other's company during the ride.
After a few days of staying in London away from his fianc»e, Thomas decided that it was time he made the call to the Gardiners that was to be very important in his life's future happiness. He therefore set out to the Gardiners' townhouse to speak to Frances' father about taking her hand in marriage. Iris decided to go with him and help him by being near in the house, most likely talking to Frances. He was much comforted by this and they set out to pay their most important call.
The Gardiners were expecting them when they arrived. Frances was overjoyed to see Thomas again after'such a long separation', (two days of not seeing each other). Edward Gardiner was present as were Frances' parents. Her mother was just as overjoyed to meet Thomas. The father was very quiet when Thomas and Iris came to them.
"How are you, Edward?" Thomas asked good-naturedly, very pleased to meet him again.
"As well as can be." Edward answered. Thomas said no more as Edward was looking grumpy and surly.
After their tea Thomas asked if he might speak with the elder Mr. Gardiner in private. He was led into a study and they both sat down across from each other.
"I have come here to ask permission for your daughter's hand in marriage." Thomas began.
"I know it, sir. Are you sure you know what you are doing?" Thomas was taken aback by this question.
"Of course I know what I am doing, sir."
"Do you truly love my daughter as she says you do?" Mr. Gardiner looked very weary as he said it.
"I love her with all of my heart. I will make her happy, I promise you sir."
Mr. Gardiner chuckled to himself. "You will make her happy?" He seemed very amused. "It will take a lot to make her truly happy."
"I do not follow you sir."
"Well," Mr. Gardiner said, rising. "If you both truly love each other, I see no reason why you should not marry. Congratulations! You are engaged to a very beautiful woman!"
"Thank you sir!" Thomas cried in delight, not knowing what else to say and forgetting all of Mr. Gardiner's strange remarks.
Together they reentered the room where everyone else was assembled. When Mr. Gardiner announced the happy news there was such a commotion in the drawing room! All of the ladies were trying to say how happy they were all at once. Edward looked rather astounded at the news.
"We must being planning for the wedding at once!" Mrs. Gardiner was saying to Iris and Frances. "Have you decided on a date?"
"Not yet, ma'am, but I'm sure it must be soon." Thomas said.
"Oh, that won't give us much time! Pray, where are you staying? In town?" Mrs. Gardiner asked quickly.
"Yes we have a-"
"Of course you have a town house! I should so much like to meet the rest of your family." Mrs. Gardiner said.
"And you shall meet them! You are all invited to dine with us tomorrow evening. Will that suit you?"
"It will be fine, Thomas." Mr. Gardiner said and retired to the library.
After a few hours, Thomas and Iris left the Gardiner's home. Frances was very upset when they left and her mother was waving her handkerchief wildly after their carriage as they drove off out of site. Iris sighed deeply.
"Oh Tom! I like Frances well enough, but her mother talked so much! And all that stuff she said about our nice town house and how she should love to meet our family. Invited herself over, that's what she did! Thomas are you even listening?"
"I'm sorry, did you say something?" Thomas asked and turned his attention from looking out of the window to Iris. She was shaking her head with a smile on her face.
"I dare say you didn't even notice anyone except Frances, who looked very - shall we say - radiant tonight. Very happy and excited. You are not even listening, Thomas!" Iris cried and he muttered an apology. She sighed again.
"Well, if you love her so very much I suppose a rather talkative mother-in-law will not be so very terrible."
"She looked beautiful tonight!" he cried and Iris laughed out loud.
"How did it go, Thomas?" Janet asked immediately when they came through the door.
"What do you mean by that?" Janet pleaded.
"Her father gave his consent!" Thomas said joyfully.
Janet gave him a hug and some kisses. Margaret was trying to hug him as well. Iris decided she'd escape to her own room and relax after all the excitement of meeting the Gardiners and then her two sister's raptures. It was a little too much for her to bear in one night. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were called into the room and told the joyous news. Everyone was very happy.
Four months after the previous chapter, three weeks after the wedding of Thomas and Frances Bennet...
"Oh my dear Thomas!" Frances cried to him as he was reading in the study.
"What is it, dearest?" he asked, alarmed by her agitated look.
"You must help me reason with your sister!"
"My sister?" Thomas asked, reluctantly closing his book and rising. "What about?"
"Iris -- is Iris is wearing this -- this--"
"What is she wearing? What is the matter with Iris?" Frances did not have time to reply for Iris herself came into the room.
"Good evening, brother. Are you both ready to go to the evening party?" she asked calmly.
"Ready? She asks if we are ready?" Thomas looked at his wife in alarm and Iris watched her coldly. "You are not ready! Look at your appearance! That dress -- it's absolutely plain! So very plain!" she wailed. "You will never find any admirers in that dress!" Frances moaned.
"I tire of this, Frances! I am going to wear this dress. Oh I don't even want to go anymore!" Iris stormed out of the room.
"Oh did you see it? Plain white! She was wearing white to the evening party! There is nothing wrong with white but only white! No necklace, no lace -- nothing! Does she plan to become an old spinster?"
"I thought she looked very well in the dress tonight." Thomas said, feeling rather torn, wanting to please his wife and yet couldn't go against Iris. Frances threw up her hands.
"What would you know about it, you fool! You're a man! Men know nothing of such things."
Thomas stepped back from her, feeling as if he'd been slapped. She rushed out of the room as Janet called for them to come. Thomas followed after a few minutes of thinking. He decided that perhaps she was in a rather bad mood and to not be offended by what she said. Iris had decided to go, as she had been invited to the Lucas's as well and it would be a slight if she didn't go. Frances spoke to neither Iris nor Thomas all that evening.
"What seems to be the matter with Mrs. Frances Bennet tonight, Thomas?" Robert Thornton teased.
"Some silly thing about Iris's dress," Thomas replied, taking a sip of his wine and watching as Frances sat in a chair.
"Seems to be sulking, doesn't she?" Robert said.
"If you tease me about my wife I shall make sure that you never see Janet again," Thomas growled. Robert laughed.
"You couldn't keep me away from her in a million years! But please accept my apologies; your wife isn't sulking, she is punishing you for taking Iris's side!" Robert laughed again but stopped when Thomas looked as though he was about to rip his head off. "You know, old boy...I was just about to go get another drink if you'll excuse me." Robert said and hurried away, still grinning.
Thomas watched his wife sit alone, throwing glances at him every once in a while. What had he done to offend her so very much? Iris came up behind him.
"She is very angry indeed," she said and Thomas nodded.
"What on earth did you say to her?"
"I said that I thought you looked very well in that gown." Iris shook her head. "That must have done it. I suppose she won't speak with me for a week now." Thomas looked alarmed.
"She will not stay angry with you for so long, indeed she will not!" Iris gave him a look that seemed to say: You don't know her as well as I do. She didn't reply, however, and walked over to where Janet and Robert where talking.
As predicted, Frances was very vexed with Iris and hardly spoke to her for three more days. She made it up with Thomas the day after their disagreement.
"I am so sorry that I offended you in any way, my love," he explained humbly.
"Oh it's alright dearest! I only want Iris to shine in public! It is such a pity that she is so old and yet has not admirers." Frances lamented.
"Iris is only nineteen!"
"She will soon be twenty." Frances sighed. "Compare her to Janet though! Janet, already, is practically engaged to Mr. Robert Thornton."
"Where did you get any information of the sort? I never heard anything so absurd!" Thomas cried. Frances turned away from him and sniffed. He sighed and embraced her. "Let us not quarrel over silly things, my dear. It is true that Janet and Robert are very fond of each other. I don't know how it will end, most likely in marriage -- nothing could make me happier on that day to come. However, Janet is as yet too young to wed and I hope you will not put any ideas into her head." Frances nodded her head as she cried onto his shoulder. He patted her and she stopped her crying.
"I'm sorry Thomas. Let us not quarrel, as you say!" He nodded his head and she immediately cheered up. "Now I must go and find Margaret and Janet! I was planning to go into town today and buy some new lace and trimmings for our bonnets -- they are getting frightfully behind style and I intend to help them keep up with it! Margaret! Janet!" she called loudly as she left the room in search of her sisters-in-law.
And so, in this way Thomas's troubles began. He puzzled over his wife's unpredictable behavior long into the night before going to bed. She seemed most unconcerned. Iris was still feeling angry and Frances, as mentioned before, didn't speak to her for three more days. Iris did not really mind this as she wasn't sure she wanted to be confronted again by her about how to dress; or to be put down because she didn't have any admirers.
This was a rather soft spot in Iris's heart. She was very romantic and loved reading fairy-tale-like novels about the poor peasant girl who marries a prince. Of course Iris had a fine dowry but every woman, I suppose, wouldn't mind marrying a prince! To be put down, though, by your sister-in-law in front of your two younger sisters about how you were getting on in years and hadn't any suitors left Iris hurt and not feeling quite ready to forgive Frances until she begged for an apology.
Although three days went by and Frances started speaking to her again, a week and then two went by without an apology. Iris began to feel slighted, but then decided that the small fight wasn't worth all of her angry feelings towards Frances. She had resolved to go and apologize to Frances and become good friends again and was just leaving her own to room in search of her when Frances met her first.
"Iris, I have the most wonderful news!"
"What is it, my dear?" Iris asked, rather surprised with this outburst.
"Do you remember those two eligible bachelors from London?" Frances asked eagerly.
"No, not at all," Iris replied, her eyebrows drew together at her sister-in-law's excitement.
"Oh yes you do! Mr. Jones and his brother! I think they were here for Mr. William Lucas's wedding. Even if they weren't, they are coming to Meryton!"
"And..." Iris said slowly.
"Oh, they will be the perfect match for you and Margaret!" Frances cried.
"Didn't you hear me?"
"I heard what you said, but I have no idea why you would say such a thing." Iris said, regarding Frances with renewed anger. To be telling her who to marry! The very idea!
"Oh I must go and tell Margaret!" Frances cried as if she had not heard Iris and she practically ran out of the room.
Iris went over to her bed and sat down on it, exhausted by her interview with Frances. What was she doing? Why was she all of a sudden acting in such a foolish and silly way? Iris shook her head. She would not think ill of Frances. She would really try not to. But her behavior was so very peculiar...so very different than how she had acted before. What did it all mean?
Things had begun to go crazy at Longbourn. Frances seemed to make it her mission in life to have Iris and Margaret marry the two Jones brothers from London. Margaret was cooperating well for she and the youngest Mr. Jones, (his name was Matthew), had always gotten along well together and they now seemed to have formed an attachment. Frances was very proud of herself when she saw signs of attachment between them, (although none of it had been her doing).
Iris and Mr. Andrew Jones, however, were not cooperating. Mr. Jones, it seemed, was already attached to some young lady in London. This did not worry Frances too much as she thought that Iris was much better than 'any old lady from London' (as she so elegantly put it), but her plans were ruined when Iris showed no inclination towards liking Mr. Jones at all. Frances was very vexed at her for 'ruining the best chance she'd ever get at finding a good husband'. This little comment made by Frances had the opposite affect than what she'd intended - Iris seemed even more determined not to like Mr. Jones.
Thomas was caught in all the middle of this confusing mess. Iris pleaded with him to 'make his wife stop'! Frances pleaded and actually begged him to convince Iris that Mr. Jones was the best man for her. Thomas personally didn't even like Mr. Andrew Jones, although his brother was a pleasant enough fellow; and so when Frances begged him to convince his sister that she must marry a man that he did not like, he was forced to say that he couldn't. Luckily, Frances, for some strange reason, wasn't too offended by this as it really wasn't up to Thomas - it was up to her father-in-law.
Thomas was, however, quite exhausted by the pleadings of his wife and Iris. He decided to 'escape' to the library and read for hours until he felt more relaxed. Only after that would he be able to return to the chaos of the every day life in his home... Except that Frances found him.
"Why have you been reading for so long, Thomas?" Frances asked as she entered the library.
"It amuses me," he said simply.
"A book is more amusing than me?" Frances pouted, sitting in a chair across from him. He looked up from his book and sighed.
"I don't know why you would say a thing like that, Frances," he said seriously.
"Because that is all you ever do. Read."
"I thought you enjoyed reading," he said.
"Oh, you mean reading? Yes, I suppose..." she said.
"I love my books, but of course you are amusing! Very amusing," he said and she laughed.
"I don't see why you should doubt me."
"I never doubted you, it was only a question," she said in a hurt tone of voice and left the room.
Thomas sat in the library, his poor book was forgotten. He didn't understand the queer behavior of his wife. She thought that he would enjoy being with a book better than being with her? No, he certainly did not understand the queer behavior of women.
While Thomas was in the library and everyone else was very busy worrying about something unimportant (as all good people so often do), Janet was taking a walk outside in the garden. It was early January and it was snowing. It was beautiful and it so rarely snowed this time of year. Janet enjoyed the cold, fresh air and the giant snowflakes that fell onto her gloved hand; each one different and exotically beautiful.
'I pity anyone who has never seen snow,' Janet thought as she watched the grey garden turn into a winter fairyland.
She walked over to the huge evergreen tree that stood near the house. Seats had been put under it and it was the loveliest place to sit and think for hours without being interrupted by anyone - except the birds.
Janet was a nature lover. She was the one who came to sit under the evergreen tree and watch the birds the most often; chickadees and sparrows, she knew some of them by name, and they ate out of her hands. She had brought along some scraps of bread for them as she did every day or so. They were waiting for her.
Oh, the felicity of the days when chickadees would still come up to people and sit in their hands. Of course they didn't stay long, birds are such busy little things that they have to keep moving, but the sensation a person gets when he or she the two tiny feet standing of the palm of their hands for an instant before flying away. Or the feeling of their wings so soft. One could go on for days about how special you feel that a bird should trust you enough to eat out of your hand!
Janet made a very beautiful picture, holding out her hand with birds singing around her. Thus, Robert Thornton found her on that snowy winter day.
"Hello, Miss Janet," he said softly. She did not move as she didn't want the birds to be frightened and go away.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Thornton," she said and turned slowly to face him.
"Things are absolutely chaotic at Longbourn today. I had to, shall we say, escape from your sister-in-law. She was talking rather quickly to me about a very serious matter."
"Oh? She has begun to talk rather quickly lately." She took a deep breath. "What were you talking about?"
"Well it seems that..." Robert blushed.
"You look cold, Mr. Thornton."
"Robert." He said.
"I said you look cold, Robert." She said the name fondly and smiled at him. "Your cheeks are very red. Now what was it that you were saying?" she said encouragingly.
"Your sister-in-law seems to think that we are engaged." Janet did not react as Robert had thought she would. She didn't seem surprised at all.
"We are not." She simply stated.
"Uh - no," he stammered.
"I do not know why she must pester me about it!" Janet cried angrily.
"About what, may I ask?"
"She's always telling me to 'catch' you soon."
"This is indeed very interesting news. Well, if she has her heart set on it perhaps it would be best if we didn't disappoint her." Janet looked up at him. He was very pleased - she was surprised this time.
"You are saying that-" she trailed off as he bent down on one knee and took her hand in his.
"Will you marry me, Miss Janet Bennet?" he asked.
"Yes!" she cried and threw herself into his arms, crying with tears of joy.
The news that Robert Thornton and Janet Bennet were engaged was joyfully received at Longbourn. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were absolutely delighted. They had been looking forward to the engagement for some time now. Iris was overjoyed and Margaret actually cried! Frances, (to say the least), was ecstatic. Thomas, although he had said earlier that he did not wish for his sister to be married at such an early age, was very happy. Robert was his best friend and he could do nothing except wish them every happiness.
Robert and Janet would have a long engagement. Thomas was not the only one who thought that almost eighteen was a little young to marry. They would be married on Janet's nineteenth birthday. The lovers would be rather tested, but the length of the engagement didn't seem to bother them. They were happy as they were now.
You, my dear readers, will be interested to know that Frances loved children. Both she and Thomas had been waiting for the day when Frances would find that she was expecting and so, when the day arrived, (five months after their marriage), everyone was very happy. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were positively overjoyed at the thought that they were to be grandparents. The three sisters practically skipped when they found that they were to be aunts. Thomas was very happy and I will let you imagine Frances's very happy reaction.
The very joyous atmosphere in the household was, however, destroyed when Frances was in her seventh month. Nothing horrible happened to Frances, but something happened to Mr. Bennet and William: both were taken seriously ill with scarlet fever.
Everyone else in the family had already had it as children. Everyone had supposed, of course, that Mr. Bennet would never get it as they thought that he had too strong of a constitution. They hoped William would pull through.
Frances was paranoid. She was expecting and who knew what could happen to a person when they were expecting? She refused to remove to anywhere -- travelling would be a horrible solution in her condition. She insisted that Mr. Bennet and William both be removed. Everyone revolted against this idea and were absolutely appalled that Frances would even suggest something as ridiculous as that.
Both father and son's fevers raged on for a month, and then over a month. Frances was becoming more worried every day. Thomas hardly ever left his father and brother's bedsides. They tried to convince Frances to leave the house so that when the child would be born it would not die from the disease. At last, practically by force, Frances and Thomas set out for the Lucas's house late one night. Frances began to have very hard pains just as they left the house.
She cried out as her labor pains became harder. Thomas comforted her as best as he could until they reached the Lucas's house. He carried her in as she began to cry that she was dying. As Mrs. Miriam Lucas ran into the hall when they came in, Frances began sobbing that it was too late -- to take care of her baby after she had gone. Miriam did not seem to be very surprised by the way she was acting (after already having had one baby of her own), although Thomas was absolutely terrified. What if something went terribly wrong with his wife and their child?
All thoughts of her silly behavior disappeared from his mind. He was worried sick as the night went on and her cries grew louder and louder. The doctor was sent for soon after they arrived. The night went on and a few rays of light were shining through the window when a different sort of cry came to Thomas's ears: the sound of a baby wailing.
Miriam came out of the room and patted him reassuringly on the hand. ''Your wife is absolutely fine. And you have a beautiful baby girl."
Dr. David Gilbert held the hot hand of his patient. Scarlet fever was so very dangerous in one so young. He put his hand up to the two and a half-year-old child's head and ran his hand through his blonde curls. The cheeks were flushed with the high fever and the red rash had spread all over his body. David could do nothing to help.
Dr. Gilbert was the newest doctor in town. He was very young to be a doctor, in some people's opinions, but had soon proved that he was as good as any more experienced doctor when almost all of patients lived. Many young ladies in Meryton would have loved to be noticed by the tall handsome doctor with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He had studied in the best medical schools and was now trusted far and wide. People were already saying that if you could get Dr. Gilbert to treat you then you would most certainly live. Only now he could do nothing to save William Bennet.
The father was going to pull through by a very close shave. But it was too late to save his youngest son. David looked towards the door as it opened and a woman entered. He had forgotten her name but he knew she had hardly left the little boy's or her father's side all through the week. He had at last almost forced her to go and sleep for a little while. She had only stayed away for a few short hours and then was back again to sooth her father's thirst and sing to William when he woke up crying.
"How is he?" Iris whispered as she went over to the other side of William's bed. David did not answer for a few minutes and her eyes filled with tears. "He's not going to pull through, is he Dr. Gilbert?" she asked, her voice cracking.
"No. It's beyond all of us now." He said, taking hold of William's hand gently.
"How long does he have to live?" she asked, the tears running down her cheeks.
"I don't know."
"What about father?"
"He will most certainly live." David answered firmly.
They watched over William all night and all morning. He woke up once before the end. Iris sang for him and Mrs. Bennet held him close before being sent out of the room because of her crying hysterically and upsetting her husband and boy even more. Margaret and Janet were not home as they had gone to the Lucas's to help Thomas and Frances with the new baby that had been born three days earlier.
Iris held William when he slipped away from this world forever.
"William?" she had whispered as he opened his eyes one last time.
"Iwis." He had croaked. "Sing." She obeyed and sang his favorite song. After a few minutes he was not breathing and she knew that he was dead.
"William!" she had cried hysterically and shook him - trying to make him wake. David, who had been tending to Mr. Bennet, rushed over and took him from her. She was sobbing as he put the baby back on the bed and pulled the sheet over him. Iris ran from the room and David sat down in the chair beside William's bed and began to pray, silently weeping for the family who had lost their child.
Thomas looked down at his daughter. She was perfect. Everything about Jane Sarah Bennet was beautiful; every slender finger, every tiny toe. Her skin was so soft. She was sleeping now, thankfully not wailing. She had a strong voice and therefore the new parents were relieved to discover that she wasn't a very fussy baby.
Thomas glanced over at his wife, who was laying in her bed watching him absent-mindedly. She was bored as she could hardly move or sit. Sitting in bed was not exactly something that Frances liked to do and she was now drumming her fingers on the mattress, trying to think of something to do. She sighed loudly.
"Why must you play with the baby so much, Thomas?" she whined.
"I am only holding her, Frances." Thomas said, remembering how he had been feeling angry with Frances for acting so ridiculous about leaving Longbourn. "She is beautiful."
"She's very beautiful but oh how very painful it was for me to bring her into this world! I was so very sure that I was dying."
"But I am so very happy that you did it, dearest. Look at our daughter! She is perfect!"
"If you let the blanket fall off of her like that I am sure she will catch a cold and then I will have suffered for nothing! Oh Thomas do be more careful holding her!" Frances cried, finding that worrying over little Jane was something to do that would be worth doing (in her opinion).
"I am being very careful, I hope." Thomas said, holding the baby closer to him and looking down her.
"Oh don't squeeze her so! Oh and hold her head up better!" Frances was saying.
"What was that?" Frances screeched. The baby woke up at the sound of her mother's yelp and started to cry.
"Oh it is so loud in here! Oh my poor nerves!!" Thomas looked at his wife in shock and tried to calm Jane as best as he could. Her nerves, did she say?
The sound of laughter could be heard and Janet and Margaret burst into the room. "Oh we are so sorry!" Janet cried, breathless.
"But we were trying to reach a particular book and the ladder fell, you see ..." Margaret said.
"Oh, the baby is crying!" Janet cried and took her niece from Thomas, bringing her over to Frances.
"Oh, don't bring her to me! She's crying, I do not want a wailing baby on my hands! Oh my nerves!"
"What do your nerves have to do with any of this?" Margaret asked, looking at Thomas inquiringly. He shrugged and Frances finally took the baby and calmed her down.
"There, you see? She only needed her mother." Margaret said, satisfied.
Janet and Margaret had both forgiven Frances for anything that she had done that was annoying to them - she had helped make them aunts to a beautiful baby girl! She deserved praise, attention and forgiveness. Janet was just beginning to explain about the book they had wanted to reach when Sir William Lucas burst into the room. He had tears in his eyes.
"What is the matter, William?" Janet asked.
"This just arrived from Longbourn," he said. Thomas stood up to receive it and read the short message. He paled and sank back down in his chair.
"Who is it from, Thomas?" Margaret asked.
"What does it say?" Frances called from the bed, excited that a letter should be sent to them.
"It is from Iris."
"Why should Iris send us a message? She lives only a short distance from us!" Frances cried, disappointed that the letter was not from someone else.
"Thomas looked at his two sisters and said, "William is dead." Janet gasped and Margaret paled considerably.
"Dead?" she whispered and Thomas nodded.
"He died earlier today." Both sisters began crying.
"I warned you about that doctor!" Frances cried, her eyes also overflowing with tears. "I told you that those young doctors with crazy ideas about health can do no good. I warned you but would anyone listen to me? And now Willie is dead," she said, beginning to sob all over Jane.
Thomas was extremely grieved but did not lose his senses. He sent Janet and Margaret out of the room and took Jane, (who was almost soaking wet, now) from Frances. Sir William also left the room.
"I am sure that Dr. Gilbert did everything in his power to save William, Frances. And Iris says that father will live," Thomas said, taking her hand.
"Dr. Gilbert!" she scoffed. "He may be good looking but he does not deserve the title 'doctor'."
"Frances, David Gilbert is the best doctor Meryton has ever had. It is such a pity that he could not help you when you gave birth to Jane."
"I did not want him to help deliver Jane! My mother warned me about the new doctors. Always trust the old ones, she said. I've heeded her advice but you haven't and now William is dead!" she burst into tears again and sobbed.
Thomas, unable to bear her weeping and his own sorrow, left the room with Jane to mourn over his only brother's death.
David was taking a breath of fresh air in the cold January weather. The two younger sisters, Margaret and Janet, had returned from Lucas Lodge to comfort their parents but had only succeeded in making the house more gloomy. The mother and two youngest daughters were weeping constantly (and had very good reason to). Mr. Bennet was continually mumbling that God should have taken him instead of his son. The eldest daughter, Iris, had disappeared and David did not know where she had gone.
After her outburst of tears the day before when she found out that William was dead, Iris had not spoken to anyone. She showed no emotion. No one seemed to mind this except David. She was not eating and did not seem to sleep. David was now living at Longbourn and helping out Mr. Bennet so that he could be certain that he would not die. Now he was worried that the eldest Miss Bennet was hurting herself because of her grief and no one seemed to notice that she was doing this except him.
What David did not know, (and what everyone else did know), was that this was Iris's way of dealing with her grief. When her grandmother had died two years ago Iris had showed her grief in the same way: she fasted for two days, spoke to no one and hardly slept. She spent most of her time praying and stayed outside as often as she could. It was her way of saying good-bye to a loved one and her family knew this.
David came upon Iris walking in the gardens. He walked over to her. "Are you all right, Miss Bennet?" he asked and she turned.
"As well as is possible, Dr. Gilbert." She answered quietly, looking up into his troubled eyes.
"You have not been eating well," he stated and she nodded.
"I am fasting for two days. I will eat at midnight tonight," she answered.
"And you are not sleeping," he said.
"I sleep, but very seldom for two days also. I am mourning the loss of my brother, Dr. Gilbert. You need not be afraid for me, I am quite all right. I am not going to waste away to nothingness."
He believed her but asked again, "Are you sure you will be fine?" She looked at him, startled by his asking her again.
"Positively sure," she said, still watching him.
They stood for a few minutes before he said, "I must get back to the house and see if your father needs anything."
"Yes, you had better. He is going to live, you are sure?"
"Positively sure," he said, and this brightened them both a little. "I promise you that he will not die."
"Thank you, Dr. Gilbert. I hope that is a promise you can keep," she said and he reluctantly returned to the house.
Edward Gardiner was a very sensible man and so he saw signs that Thomas was feeling rather miserable, not only because of the death of his brother, but because of his wife and her newest complaint: her poor nerves. Edward decided to have a talk with him and apologize; apologize for not having warned him of Frances' true character.
"You do not look very well, Thomas," he said casually about a week after their arrival. Thomas rubbed his temples.
"I feel exhausted," he said and Edward noted the deep circles under his eyes.
"What is troubling you, my friend?" Thomas glanced towards the room where his wife was now sleeping. "Ah, I understand."
"She is complaining about her nerves now, constantly. Every little noise makes her head and 'nerves' ache. She never acted this way before but there were other things..." Edward made a sign for him to go on. "Tell me Edward, did she ever match-make when she lived with you?"
"No, she was a flirt." Thomas looked crushed.
"She is entirely different than I thought she was," he said.
"I'm sorry for not telling you of her habits." Edward said.
"There is no need to apologize. Perhaps she just means Iris well. Perhaps her 'nerves' will go away. After all...childbearing is very hard." Thomas said, visibly cheering up.
Edward did not say that it was most likely that Frances was never going to forget about her aching nerves. He didn't want to have Thomas be so very disappointed in his wife. So he left Thomas and went to pace about in the study. Things were really very gloomy that day in Longbourn.
Over the next year, things changed at Longbourn. Frances stayed the same as she had become after Jane's birth, constantly complaining of 'nerves' and worrying over Jane's health. Thomas was very different than he had been when they had first married; quiet, thoughtful and would also have been very gloomy if not for two joyous things happening in his life.
One of the first things was the marriages of Janet and Margaret. Janet, as you all know, married Robert (almost immediately after they came out of mourning for William half a year after his death). Margaret married Matthew only a few months after Janet's marriage. It was actually rather surprising for everyone that they married so soon. (Frances was the only one not completely taken by surprise).
The other joyous thing in Thomas's life was Jane. She was already showing signs of being very sweet, even at such a young age. Everyone adored her but no one loved her more than her father. She was very attached to him and they would spend hours together playing with his great books with beautiful pictures in them. He would tell her stories and she would listen. Jane couldn't speak much yet but she seemed to understand most of the things people told her.
Frances was constantly worrying about her. Jane hadn't much hair at all and what she did have was so blonde that you could barely see it. Why has she not more hair? she was always asking, fretting over the health of her baby. Perhaps you can see why Jane enjoyed the company of her father so very much. It was indeed very interesting for everyone in the family to watch because it was usually the other way around in families; the daughter usually always stayed with the mother.
Things had changed at Longbourn, however, that most people didn't notice. Iris was constantly taking walks into town and helping Dr. Gilbert with some of his patients. No one really seemed to take notice of this, however, as Iris had always had a great compassion for people. Why should she not visit the sick? Mr. Bennet was also constantly feeling tired. He spent long hours reading and resting in the quiet of his room with his wife as his only companion. They seemed to be preparing for something together that no one else took notice of.
A year and a few months after Jane's birth, Frances was found to be with child again. Elizabeth Rose Bennet was born in May. Elizabeth immediately showed signs after her birth of looking the exact opposite of Jane. She already had darker hair only a few weeks after she was born and her eyes soon turned from hazel to beautiful brown...contrary to Jane's blue eyes. Frances now began to stop worrying about her daughter Jane's health and saw what a beautiful child she had turned into now that she finally had some hair!
Of course she cared for Elizabeth, but Jane obviously had everything: good looks and the sweetest temper. Little Lizzy was rather a fussy baby. Her mother was now often with Jane, combing his shiny blonde hair and dressing her up like a little doll. Thomas, as soon as he realized that he couldn't have Jane all to himself like before, took Lizzy into his own hands since her mother tended to take care of Jane more than her youngest daughter.
When Lizzy stopping being a fussy baby and turned eight months old, she began to talk. By the time she was a year old, Thomas could talk to her and she understood what he was saying and could even say something back to him.
Dear Lizzy wasn't a genius but she understood what he wanted her to. She loved her father's stories more than anything in the world and loved to sit in his arms and sleep, or talk to him as best as she could, (which was really pretty well, no lisp), as he read by the fire. At a very early age, Thomas and Lizzy developed a very close relationship and Thomas found the companion he had been longing for.
"Tell me, Lizzy, how old are you again?" Iris asked her little niece.
"Three!" Lizzy held up three fingers.
"And how old is Jane?" Iris asked and Jane came up to them.
"Jane is five!" Lizzy said and held up five fingers.
"Happy birthday, Lizzy." Jane said and pushed a present into sister's hands. Elizabeth unwrapped a very pretty little handbag and squealed. She immediately ran over to her proud father and showed him her new possession.
Mr. Bennet would later show her some interesting things to fill it. He watched as she received numerous gifts from other relatives and little friends. She squealed and was extremely surprised as her Uncle Robert swooped her up into his arms and swung her around the room. He caught her every time he did that. The first time he had she was terrified and made him put her down. She wouldn't let him hold her for the rest of the day ... she had to make absolutely sure he wouldn't catch her by surprise again. As he behaved himself the next time he visited, Lizzy had no problem with Robert swinging her around a little. That was Thomas's Lizzy, always making sure what she did was alright before doing it.
Later on that evening Lizzy received a gift from her father as they sat together in the library as usual every evening. She excitedly tore it open to find a beautiful book of fairy-tale stories with beautiful pictures for her to look at until she could read the stories themselves. This was her favorite gift of all she had received besides, perhaps, Jane's. She flung her arms around her father and whispered: "I love you Papa!"
"I love you too, my dearest Lizzy," he answered back and then commenced reading the new book to her. Frances, who had been watching this scene, went up to her room, feeling very left out.
Mr. Bennet died when Lizzy had just turned four and Catherine, called Kitty, was born. It was a very big mess. Frances was having to take care of a tiny baby, little Jane and Lizzy had to attend a funeral, and the word 'entail' came up suddenly and constantly.
William had died five years earlier. Mr. Bennet had now ended his days quietly after a long life. Thomas and Frances had been married for a while now and yet had produced no heir. The house was entailed away entirely from the female line. If Thomas and Frances could not produce an heir, the estate would be entailed away to a Mr. Collins, (a rather distant cousin).
Frances was in a state of nerves that shocked everyone still left in the household -- Mrs. Bennet, Iris, Thomas and even his two eldest daughters. Lizzy was constantly taking 'walks' outside with her sister, Jane, and Thomas had found them hiding in a tree several times whenever their mother needed them. Mary was only a year old and could not really escape from anyone, yet Frances paid her no mind. She had many other things to worry about.
If anyone so much as mentioned Mr. Collins' name in front her she went into a state of hysteria.
"Such an odious man, Thomas! To think that he will get this house!" She shuddered visibly.
"Mr. Collins is respectable...and do not worry, my dear. We will have a son."
"Oh but if we don't we shall be turned out of the house the moment you die!"
"I do not plan on departing this earth any time soon, Mrs. Bennet," he said. Frances sat back in her chair, completely shocked. He had never called her that before!
"Oh, Mr. Bennet, how can you be so foolish! You will die someday and then what will happen to us unless one of the girls marry well?"
"Let us hope for better things, my dear. Perhaps we must hope that I might out-live you?" He got up from his seat and left a fretting Mrs. Bennet behind him, mumbling:
"Oh what is to become of us all?"
Elizabeth took hold of her father's hand as his eyes filled with tears. "And then, Lizzy, I gave up. I made no effort to try to love my wife. She was the silliest person I had ever encountered. I felt that I could do nothing but laugh at her ridiculous worries and that is exactly what I did. I am heartily ashamed of myself Lizzy," he said.
"What happened then?"
"Oh, you know the rest of the story. Iris married David, of course, and I have rarely seen a happier couple, besides you and Mr. Darcy, or Jane and Bingley, I suppose. I am so very happy that you've made the right decisions in life, my dear!" he said, his tears dying up. "I'm sorry that your mother rather disliked you in her lifetime. It is my fault for loving you so. After Lydia was born she became her pet and spoilt her something awful. But I did not really care. She could have my three youngest daughters, but I would not let her spoil you and Jane. I am so glad that at least you two have turned out well."
"Because you taught us so well." Thomas' face beamed happiness.
"There is one thing in which I haven't failed," he said. Elizabeth rose.
"I am going to get us more tea and change out of these clothes. My goodness, look at the time! We have been talking for such a long time."
"Indeed, go ahead my love."
"Papa?" Elizabeth turned as she was opening the door. "You really did love her once though, didn't you?"
"Yes, Lizzy, I suppose I did. A very long time ago."
"That's what I needed to know. I love you, Papa. Thank you for telling me the story."
"And I love you, Lizzy."
She closed the door behind her and found her sister, Mary, whom by now was beginning to worry as Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth had been talking for quite a while.
Mr. Bennet closed his eyes and very quickly fell asleep as it was very late in the night. He smiled as he dreamt of a very beautiful woman...with the voice of an angel.
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